In 2018, Kamaal Martin ran for city council and though it was his first time running and he did not get elected, he said he did not feel that he lost anything, gaining a fresh respective, the power of relationships and it became clear to him that this type of service is a calling, not just a job. The 41-year-old Democrat has lived in Lemon Grove for 13 years, and said his original intent was not to run for mayor.
“As I continue to engage our elected officials and community leaders around a vision for Lemon Grove and the work we are trying to do, the more it became clear to me that we were not being represented in the most effective fashion,” he said.
Martin said when the COVID-19 pandemic hit it confirmed the urgency of the needs of the people of Lemon Grove.
“It became clear that if you do not address public health within a community there are huge economic implications that impacts others,” he said. “Public health is much more than epidemiology, vaccines, flu shots and COVID tests. Public health is poverty, crime, homelessness, substance abuse and mental health.”
Martin said this is compounded with 45% of the city’s general fund is going to law enforcement. He said law enforcement absolutely plays a role in the management of a city, and that model was good in its time, but that law enforcement needed to move into the 20th century.
“I think the confluence and perfect storm of COVID, a national movement, hopefully not a moment around race, systemic inequality is giving us the opportunity to ask questions that a few years ago, even a few months ago, people were not discussing,” he said.
Martin said with police contracts increasing, 20 deputies in a city of 3.8 miles, the question of how many deputies needed is a valid one.
“If we fail to just open the door to asking questions about every institution on how we can provide services to one another, we are going to fail,” he said.
Martin said disincorporation is a non-option. “The idea that the county would or could provide a higher level of service and representation, I simply don’t think is the case,” he said.
Housing, transit and the city’s proximity and density to downtown is big part of the economic development strategy, said Martin. He said Lemon Grove has to rebrand itself, create an identity, and market itself to attract investments and businesses. Martin said revenues is a huge need that can only be met with different sources, with money coming outside of Lemon Grove.
“I think taxes is part of it, but we can’t tax our way back to prosperity,” he said. “If elected, I would definitely support a new tax measure. It is a cornerstone of our development and how we kind of stop the bleeding. I see three tiers on economic development. Stabilize, sustain and strengthening.”
He said other things need to be addressed immediately. He said the cannabis industry has taken too long to tap into since it became legalized. He said he believes the city can become a model of a clean and green city in the county and state with its school district, transit, 10 minutes from downtown, 15 minutes from the beach, 20 minutes from the border, all huge assets that the City is not moving forward with.
“We are the gateway to East County, but we are also southeast San Diego,” he said. “Framing around the greater southeast San Diego is going to be a big part of how we grow and continue to attract attention, investment and capital into this area. There is a tremendous amount of shared need for investment, infrastructure, social economic impacts.”
Martin said partnerships with neighboring cities and towns is a sound investment with more than 30,000 people in the block of the southeast corridor with Lemon Grove taking the lead.
“In Lemon Grove, where Chollas Creek really begins, we can do something transformational in terms of green space, economic development, urban agriculture, aquaponics, hydroponics, job and skills training to create a corridor that rivals the prosperity of any other corridor in San Diego County,” he said. “Let’s use the borders and boundaries of our environment to frame the thinking and create this restorative, regenerative, cooperative economic effort that is able to bring in foundation money, grant money, private lending to do the type of projects that we want to get done.”
He said the Connect Main Street project is brilliant and would go a long way into the creation of a green belt. “Twenty years from now I want to see an uninterrupted path of green space where someone could walk or bike from Lemon Grove down to the bay in National City,” he said.
He said that Lemon Grove can work with the County to create a hospital specifically focused on indigent care. Martin said it could follow Chula Vista, that has a bond on the ballot for building housing for teachers and would expand that to housing for first responders. He said Lemon Grove needs to go vertical on both sides of downtown streets with mixed use on the bottom and residential on top, still keeping the small-town esthetic that the community appreciates. He said the city can cater to the large millennial workforce with an urban community where they can walk anywhere they want to go.
“The only limits is our imagination and our will,” he said. “And that is what we have been lacking and that is one of the things that I have to offer. I think that I am well equipped to hit the ground running and make a change that is beneficial to Lemon Grove.”
Martin has a history in politics as a campaign manager, voter registration campaigns, working for the speaker’s office’s members services in the State Assembly, field director for the Assembly’s Democratic Caucus, Assembly member Shirley Weber’s district director, government relations specialist for the San Diego Airport Authority, worked with non-profits, and teaches for local community colleges and AP classes with high school students.
“The chance to think deeply and profoundly about broad issues with far reaching impacts, to pull in resources from different places, to collaborate, delegate is not work, it is a joy.”